Tag Archives: Advocacy

Jazz Congress 2018

The inaugural Jazz Congress will be in session January 11-12 in New York City. Co-produced by Jazz at Lincoln Center and Jazz Times, the conference will “bring together artists, media and industry leaders in the global jazz community to exchange ideas in order to nurture and grow the jazz community and the underlying business and organizations that promote, produce, present, market and support the music.”

Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, Managing and Artistic Director at JALC, said:

Jazz at Lincoln Center is excited to host this much needed community initiative. We will stimulate an inclusive environment, explore new ways to expand audiences for our music, and learn from one another. With so much discordant non-communication around the world and in our country, now is the perfect time for us to come together for serious discourse around and about our cultural, business and aesthetic objectives.

Marsalis added:

Jazz has what our modern world needs. Let us all take pride in our collective advocacy of this great music by identifying, declaring and demonstrating our common ground.

The program includes panels focusing on race and gender, and audience development. Hall of Fame basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabber, a jazz enthusiast whose father was a trombonist, will deliver the keynote address. Abdul-Jabbar will talk about the role jazz can play in today’s society.

I am particularly interested in the panel discussion on jazz, politics and activism. One of my objectives with All That Philly Jazz is to contextualize jazz within the framework of movements for social change. Indeed, the jazz culture was about intersectionality before the term was coined.

Checker Cafe

Some of the sessions will be livestreamed. You can join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #JazzCongress. For more information, visit JazzCongress.org.

Harlem on My Mind

Gentrification is displacing longtime residents in historically African American neighborhoods from Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn to Baldwin Hills in Los Angeles.

Gentrification - Historically Black Neighborhoods

I grew up in Bed-Stuy and went to college in Harlem where an iconic mural, the “Spirit of Harlem,” was covered up by Footaction, a sneaker and apparel company.

Spirit of Harlem Mural2

Langston Hughes famously asked, “What happens to a dream deferred?”

We know what happens if we don’t fight the collateral damage of gentrification. African American cultural heritage and presence will be erased from public memory. So Harlem activists are organizing to give the boot to Footaction.

Give the Boot to Fooaction

For me, it’s déjà vu all over again. In 2015, Pennrose Properties demolished the “Tribute to John Coltrane” mural in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood in North Philadelphia.

Tribute to John Coltrane Mural2

But rather than simply lament its destruction, I made some noise in my capacity as director of All That Philly Jazz. Fast forward two years, Pennrose Chairman and CEO Richard K. Barnhart thanked me for my activism. Barnhart told me that in raising awareness of the importance of cultural heritage preservation I “made him a better person.”

On September 24, 2017, the “Why We Love Coltrane” mural was dedicated.

Why We Love Coltrane-3

The mural was funded by Pennrose Properties and the City of Philadelphia, in partnership with All That Philly Jazz, Strawberry Mansion Neighborhood Action Committee and Fairmount Park Conservancy.

Why We Love Coltrane Acknowledgements

Footaction is owned by retail giant Foot Locker. Together, we can make Footaction a better corporate citizen. Let’s make some noise.

UPDATE: After making some noise on Twitter, I received a DM from Footaction.

Footaction - Direct Message - 12.12.17

True to its word, restoration of the “Spirit of Harlem” mural is in progress.

Footaction - Restoration in Progress

Advocacy works!

Going to Chicago for PastForward

I’m going to Chicago for PastForward 2017. I am a two-time recipient of a diversity scholarship to attend the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual conference. But as I wrote for the Preservation Leadership Forum blog, I am an accidental preservationist:

I love old buildings. I love even more the stories that old buildings hold—they are places where history happened. To borrow a phrase from blues singer Little Milton, “if walls could talk” they would tell stories of faith, determination and triumph. For me, historic preservation is about staking African Americans’ claim to the American story.

One of my first stops will be State and Washington streets to check out the 10-story mural of Muddy Waters.

Muddy Waters Mural

I’ll also check out the former home of the blues icon. Sadly, the 125-year-old building is under threat of demolition.

Muddy Waters Home

Discussions on reUrbanism, preservation and health, and technology will be live streamed. You can sign up as a virtual attendee for free. You can also follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #PastForward17.

I’m going to Chicago, y’all.

While in the Windy City, I will use the CTA to get around. NEA Jazz Master and Philly naive Jimmy Heath composed “CTA.” Miles Davis said it was named after Heath’s then-girlfriend Connie Theresa Ann.

Paint Day: John Coltrane Mural

Philadelphia is the City of Murals. The murals celebrate events, as well as residents who have made a difference. Few are more celebrated than John Coltrane who moved to Philadelphia in 1943. Coltrane resided in an apartment in Yorktown before buying a house in Strawberry Mansion in 1952. The house is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark.

Coltrane kicked his heroin habit and composed “Giant Steps” in that house.

In 2002, the Strawberry Mansion community, in collaboration with the Mural Arts Program, honored their former neighbor. The Pennrose Company demolished the Tribute to John Coltrane mural in 2014.

Tribute to John Coltrane Collage

To be sure, murals come and go. However, there is too much love for Trane to let the demolition go unnoticed. It has taken a while but a new mural celebrating the life and legacy of the jazz innovator will soon be dedicated. The community is invited to add a brushstroke at a public paint day on Saturday, August 19 from 1-3 p.m., at Fairmount Park’s Hatfield House, located at 33rd Street and Girard Avenue.

So get up for the down brushstroke. Everybody get up and join the Mural Arts Philadelphia, Fairmount Park Conservancy, Strawberry Mansion Neighborhood Action Committee and All That Philly Jazz.

For more info, visit Mural Arts Philadelphia.

In Case You Missed It: In the News

New historical markers coming to Philadelphia
Axios Philadelphia, January 18, 2023

A How-to Guide for Fighting Big Development
The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 2, 2023

The Drama Around Turning the John Coltrane House Into a Philly Jazz Monument
Philadelphia Magazine, December 7, 2022

City’s public input survey shows most area residents want a Harriet Tubman statue
The Philadelphia Inquirer, November 22, 2022

Overwhelming public response has been cited as the reason why the city was willing to pay $500K for a version of this Tubman statue. Now that claim is disputed.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 28, 2022

Creative Philly announces new survey for public input on an ‘African American’ statue
The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 5, 2022

Harriet Tubman deserves a permanent statue in Philly. Few others are worthy.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 22, 2022

Mayor Kenney, Creative Philly announce they will issue open call for artists for $500K Harriet Tubman statue
The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 30, 2022

7 City Council members urge arts office to seek ‘remedy plan’ and ‘prioritize’ Philly artists for Harriet Tubman statue
The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 26, 2022

John Coltrane’s sons file suit to claim ownership of Philly’s Coltrane House
The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 16, 2022

Black Music Sunday: Time to celebrate some ‘bright moments’ with Rahsaan Roland Kirk
Daily Kos, August 7, 2022

Philadelphia has created its first historic district designated to recognize Black history
The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 8, 2022

A journey by bike to Strawberry Mansion and the homes of Jazz legends Sun Ra and John Coltrane highlights the inequity of historic preservation in Philadelphia
Artblog, June 30, 2022

This July 4th, let’s honor Frederick Douglass and “agitate”
The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 30, 2022

Charles Blockson’s grade school teacher told him Black people have no history. He set out to prove her wrong.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 17, 2022

South Philly’s Black ‘main street’ is a step closer to becoming a historic district — and making history
The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 15, 2022

What could save the John Coltrane House in Strawberry Mansion? This artist and public historian are betting on NFTs
Technical.ly Philly, May 4, 2022

The clock is ticking to save John Coltrane’s Strawberry Mansion home
The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 21, 2022

Walking through Philadelphia with “The Green Book” as a guide
The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 9, 2022

How a jazz legend’s resting place was lost and found, 50 years after his tragic death
NPR Morning Edition, February 16, 2022

Lee Morgan Memorial Special on WCOM-FM with host Larry Reni Thomas February 20, 2022
JazzCorner, February 15, 2022

For a second time, Civic Design Review panel votes ‘disappointment’ in apartments proposed for Temple students
The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 5, 2022

Op-Ed: Don’t Let Temporary Monument Overshadow Neglected Black History in Philly
Hidden City Philadelphia, January 18, 2022

Civic Design panel tells developer of student housing near Temple University: Go back to the drawing board
The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 8, 2021

Housing plan draws opposition
The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 7, 2021

The Rich Legacy of Philadelphia Free Jazz
Bandcamp Daily, November 22, 2021

Let’s reimagine Marconi Plaza as a monument to Native and Black Americans | Opinion
The Philadelphia Inquirer, November 11, 2021

Philly Historic Commission official resigns, says Kenney meddled in vote over LGBTQ, African American landmark
WHYY/PlanPhilly, October 12, 2021

Living Spaces: Preserving Jazz Homes
JazzTimes Magazine, August 9, 2021

Philly Council passes protections for Doctors’ Row Black historic district
WHYY/PlanPhilly, June 24, 2021

Will demolition moratorium help historic preservation for Christian Street’s Doctors’ Row? City Council takes a look
The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 14, 2021

Philly’s Next Big Challenge
The Philadelphia Citizen, June 8, 2021

City seeks input on public artwork coming to Penn’s Landing
Metro Philadelphia, May 19, 2021

The spelling of ‘Frederick Douglass’ has been fixed in SEPTA’s subway mural
The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 20, 2021

SEPTA’s new mural has misspelled the first name of Frederick Douglass, prompting dismay
The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 19, 2021

‘Looking for Lady Day:’ A 6abc special on the life of Billie Holiday in the City of Philadelphia
6abc, April 4, 2021

Protecting the John Coltrane House
City of Philadelphia, March 9, 2021

Fires and demolitions threaten Strawberry Mansion block where historic John Coltrane house struggles for survival | Inga Saffron
The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 5, 2021

One of city’s landmark works of public art is coming out of storage and into its own park
The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 4, 2021

Small Donors Build a Big Legacy for the African American History Museum
This Is Capitalism, February 18, 2021

The unexpectedly short history of the Gloria Casarez mural, whitewashed from the Gayborhood
Billy Penn, January 4, 2021

Demolition in Philly dropped by half in 2020 — Is that a good thing?
WHYY/PlanPhilly, January 2, 2021

It’s time for Philadelphia to reckon with historical racism as an obstacle to preservation | Editorial
The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 1, 2021

New art installation in jeopardy after mural of queer activist Gloria Casarez in Philly’s Gayborhood whitewashed without warning
The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 24, 2020

Predictions for nonprofits 2021
Generocity, December 23, 2020

Black Philadelphians who recall the 1960s assess race relations in a still-divided country
The Philadelphia Inquirer, November 12, 2020

Henry Minton House, Systemic Racism and Historic Preservation
Design Advocacy Group Forum, October 18, 2020

All That Jazz?
Philadelphia Weekly, August 13,2020

Developer drops plans to build townhouses on Pa. farm that served as Underground Railroad site
PennLive and The Patriot-News, August 13, 2020

Why do majority-white city commissions pick the Philly history saved and celebrated?
WHYY/PlanPhilly, August 6, 2020

The threat to a John Coltrane mural shows how development can erase Black history in Philly
The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 29, 2020

Philly Jazz Legends: Billie Holiday
Free Library, July 29, 2020

Second John Coltrane mural to fall victim to new development, developer offers to recreate it
The Philadelphia Tribune, July 21, 2020

Let’s talk about the Philadelphia monuments we need to preserve | Inga Saffron
The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 9, 2020

All That Philly Jazz Director Faye Anderson Interview
Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, June 2020

3 Black Philadelphians whose statues should replace Frank Rizzo
The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 4, 2020

The Rizzo reign is finally over. Thank Black Philadelphia.
WHYY/PlanPhilly, June 3, 2020

Here are 15 Black nonprofit and community voices to listen to in Philadelphia
Generocity, June 2, 2020

Regional Roundup: Memorial Day Edition
WHYY Radio Times, May 25, 2020

Meaning and Memory: Making a Place for Culture in Historic Preservation
Hidden City Philadelphia, April 27, 2020

Singing the coronavirus blues
Broad Street Review, March 16, 2020

Mapping Out Philadelphia’s Jazz History
National Public Radio “Here & Now,” March 10, 2020

Historic Preservation, Public Memory and Social Justice
Design Advocacy Group, March 5, 2020

Hope and Despair Surround Philly’s African American Landmarks
Hidden City Philadelphia, February 28, 2020

Regional Roundup – 02/24/20
WHYY Radio Times, February 24, 2020

Preserving John Coltrane’s house can help save Philly’s soul
The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 16, 2020

5 Philly jazz sites besides the Coltrane House that need historical preservation
The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 16, 2020

Philadelphia jazz great John Coltrane’s house ‘at risk,’ preservationists say
The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 8, 2020

Philly’s John Coltrane House Added to PA 2020 At Risk List
Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities, Rutgers University, Camden, NJ, February 7, 2020

Strawberry Mansion’s famous John Coltrane house named ‘at risk,’ boosting chance for survival
Billy Penn, February 6, 2020

Meaning and Memory: Making a Place for Culture in Historic Preservation
Extant Magazine, Winter 2020

Philly’s ’20th century Underground Railroad’ hides in plain sight
WHYY Podcast, January 2, 2020

Philadelphia’s building boom spawned a demolition boom in 2019
WHYY/PlanPhilly, December 19, 2019

An activist’s plea to resurrect the crumbling Strawberry Mansion home and legacy of jazz legend John Coltrane
Philadelphia Weekly, September 26, 2019

Historic Philly Underground Railroad stop that freed 9,000 slaves is saved from brink of collapse
Billy Penn, September 20, 2019

This is What You Need to Know About the 2019 John Coltrane Celebration in Philadelphia
WRTI, September 17, 2019

7 ‘Green Book’ sites to discover in Philly
WHYY/PlanPhilly, September 12, 2019

Proposed sale of landmark Painted Bride building is going to court
The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 4, 2019

Top Events for September
CityWide Stories, September 3, 2019

Hey, Mayor Kenney: Here are 20 buildings that Philadelphians want historically preserved
The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 13, 2019

Ridge Avenue and the Golden Strip
Sounds of the Circle, May 21, 2019

Changing City: How Should Philadelphia View Its Historical Buildings?
WHYY Radio Times, May 9, 2019

‘Disappearing Blackness’: The campaign to show how African American history in Philly is being erased
Philadelphia Daily News, April 26, 2019

A historic haven for black Philadelphians slated for demolition
WHYY/PlanPhilly, April 9, 2019

Did you know the cover of a Nat King Cole album was shot in Elfreth’s Alley?
Billy Penn, March 18, 2019

Unmarking African American history in Philadelphia
WHYY, January 24, 2019

Unmarking African American History in Philadelphia
WHYY/PlanPhilly, January 23, 2019

Where’s the historical marker for influential Harlem Renaissance figure? Nobody knows
Philadelphia Daily News, January 9, 2019

Citizen Salon Spotlight: Faye Anderson
Arthur Ross Gallery Blog, December 11, 2018

The Schomburg Center Invites the Public to Explore Victor Hugo Green and The Green Books
GothamToGo, November 15, 2018

A former Underground Railroad stop is on the brink of collapse in Spring Garden
Billy Penn, October 29, 2018

54 apartments are about to replace the historic Royal Theater
Billy Penn, October 25, 2018

How to save your favorite Philly buildings from development
Billy Penn, October 2, 2018

Philadelphia music legend Kenny Gamble remembers ‘Queen of Soul’ Aretha Franklin
Philadelphia Business Journal, August 17, 2018

It Ain’t History–Yet. We Seek Ideas On How And Why To Save The Philadelphia History Museum
Hidden City Philadelphia, July 18, 2018

Blue Note Salon at Icebox reflects on art, jazz and activism in North Philadelphia
Artblog, June 13, 2018

How a walk around Philly could change how you think about your daily life
The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 1, 2018

‘Jazz and Justice’: Where art meets activism
The Philadelphia Tribune, April 17, 2018

Philadelphia Hopes to Harmonize Historic Preservation
Next City, December 26, 2017

Never Listed
Extant Magazine, Winter 2018

Monumental matters in Philadelphia
PlanPhilly, November 16, 2017

Who is Sister Rosetta Tharpe? The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee is buried here in Philly
Philly.com, October 5, 2017

Bringing Coltrane Back to North Philly
The Root, September 29, 2017

When Does Historic Preservation Become Social Justice? Public Art and Cultural Heritage Preservation
Preservation Leadership Forum, National Trust for Historic Preservation, July 26, 2017

As Philly Is Designated a National Treasure City, Don’t Forget Black Historic Sites, Say Advocates
NBC10, June 15, 2017

Philadelphia’s music history – a DIY tour
PSN News powered by the Associated Press, May 29, 2017

Jane’s Walk 2017: Walking tours to take in Philly this weekend
Curbed Philadelphia, May 1, 2017

Pearls on Ridge
PhillyHistory Blog, April 26, 2017

Historic Preservation and Social Justice
PlanPhilly, February 28, 2017

Ridge Avenue’s last standing jazz club
The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 24, 2017

Preserving Philadelphia’s Built African-American Heritage: A Conversation with All That Philly Jazz’s Faye Anderson
Extant Magazine, Fall 2016

Battle over proposed sale of first black Catholic church intensifies
Philadelphia Daily News, June 12, 2016

North Central: Philadelphia Celebrates Its Rich Jazz History
Philadelphia Neighborhoods, April 20, 2016

In Sharswood, remembering the music on Ridge Avenue
Philadelphia Daily News, April 16, 2016

Why Are Some Of The City’s Most Historic Black Churches Being Sold?
CBS Philadelphia, March 15, 2016

Luxury housing takes over Black landmarks in Philly
The Philadelphia Tribune, March 12, 2016

Malcolm X House Nominated for Listing on Philadelphia Register of Historic Places
SlideShare.net, March 2, 2016

Redevelopment In Sharswood: Will It Come At The Expense Of Preservation?
Hidden City Philadelphia, February 24, 2016

Breaking Through Historic Preservation’s Color Line
Hidden City Philadelphia, February 4, 2016

Housing Authority discusses Sharswood renewal project at Planning Commission
PlanPhilly, November 18, 2015

Three Key Historic Neighborhood Buildings Recommended For Register
Hidden City Philadelphia, September 16, 2015

Short-term art: When murals fall to developers
Philadelphia Daily News, June 5, 2015

Billie Holiday, The Roots join Walk of Fame
The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 31, 2015

Lost and found jazz in Philadelphia
Al Dia News, April 9, 2015

At Last, Billie Holiday Being Nominated For Broad St. ‘Walk Of Fame’ Plaque
KYW Newsradio 1060, April 7, 2015

Remembering Billie Holiday
The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 29, 2015

Video: Faye Anderson on All That Philly Jazz
Generocity, March 20, 2015

Share stories, preserve history with All That Philly Jazz app
The Philadelphia Tribune, March 6, 2015

All That Philly Jazz documents region’s rich jazz legacy from bebop to hip-hop
Examiner.com, March 6, 2015

Fast Forward Philly: What’s Next for Philly?
DesignPhiladelphia, October 10, 2014

Philly Jazz App: app to map Philly’s jazz history
Technical.ly Philly, August 28, 2013

All That Philly Jazz app breathes life into the local jazz scene
The Key, August 28, 2013

Where Music Lives: In A Jazz Past Resurrected
WRTI, July 3, 2013

St. Peter Claver, Gentrification and Black History

First it was #PopeInPhilly. Now this: The Archdiocese of Philadelphia plans to put the oldest church for black Catholics on the auction block. St. Peter Claver Union was named after the “Apostle of the Slave Trade,” a 16th century Spanish Jesuit priest who fought against the slave trade.

St. Peter Claver Church Historical Marker

St. Peter Claver was an anchor in the community. Future blues legend Ethel Waters recounts in her autobiography, His Eye is on the Sparrow, that at age six, she was gravely ill with typhoid fever and double pneumonia. Her grandmother sent for Fr. Healey who baptized and anointed her.

In 1942, St. Peter Claver’s Catholic Church, Fifty Golden Years, a self-published history, was released:

It was also toward the end of the 19th century that a sizable population of blacks developed their own Catholic congregation in Philadelphia. Prior to 1886, black Catholics had worshiped in the parishes of St. Joseph, St. Mary, and St. Augustine in the city. In 1886, Holy Trinity Church, a traditionally German Catholic Church at 6th and Spruce, began holding a mass for blacks. The pastor of Holy Trinity, Father Hilterman, encouraged his black congregants to form their own union, which adopted the name St. Peter Claver Union, after the native of Catalonia, Spain, whose efforts in behalf of emancipation earned him the title, “Apostle of the Slave Trade.”

In July 29, 1889, Rev. Patrick McDermott, arrived in Philadelphia to take charge of the burgeoning black Catholic congregation at the request of Mother Katherine Drexel, founder of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, after she visited Holy Ghost College (now Duquesne University) in Pittsburgh, PA. McDermott’s congregation began assembling in a small chapel in the second story of a home at 832 Pine Street in 1889, but it soon became too crowded, and the group began to look for a large church home.

When in 1890, the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia offered its building at 12th and Lombard for sale, the congregation began to pool its resources to purchase it. When Patrick Quinn, treasurer of the Beneficial Savings Fund Society, one of Philadelphia’s largest banks at the time, died the same year, his will stipulated that $5,000 of his fortune was to go to the “proposed Colored Catholic Church of Philadelphia.” With donations from other well-to-do Philadelphians and loan from a bank, the congregation managed to assemble the funds to purchase Fourth Presbyterian Church at 12th and Lombard, which was dedicated as St. Peter Claver’s Church, Philadelphia’s first black Catholic church, on January 3, 1892.

Fast forward to today. The Archdiocese is in Orphans’ Court petitioning for the removal of racial language in the deeds that would rewrite history.

Arlene Edmonds, community historian and author of the African American Catholic Youth Bible, told Sabrina Vourvoulias of Philadelphia Magazine:

I feel a special connection because I’ve always been interested in historical sites, particularly the Underground Railroad and the sites that were built from by those enslaved Africans who creatively masterminded their escapes. Setting foot in St. Peter Claver one can feel it is part of that lineage. As a Catholic, so many of the earliest African connections to the faith have been overpowered by Western traditions after the faith was embraced by Europeans. Most American Catholic churches are centered around a Eurocentric interpretation of the faith.

Then you have a St. Peter Claver Church that was donated to the Black community for the purpose of evangelizing to African Americans. They lived in Philadelphia during the antebellum era, were among those who escaped along the Underground Railroad, or who migrated here later from the south as well as the Caribbean and Latin America. This was their church before there was an Archdiocese of Philadelphia [emphasis added]. It housed their history in photographs and artifacts. To have that taken from us is very sad. That is why many feel as I do, that others are trying to erase our history even those who say they share our faith.

I don’t share Edmonds’ faith, but I share her concern that gentrification is erasing African American history. Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel AME Church, is host of “Urban Insight” on 900amWURD. In an interview with Edmonds, Rev. Tyler observed:

St. Peter Claver is sandwiched between Big Wesley and Mother Bethel. The neighborhood is awash with great history of founding events in the black community. It’s an American story. We must help the Archdiocese find a different way to deal with this property.

Given the givens, I put my faith in Orphans’ Court. So I filed an objection to the Archdiocese’s Petition for Cy Pres.

Malcolm X and Historic Preservation

Before his awakening, Malcolm X was known as “Detroit Red,” a fixture on the jazz scene in Harlem. In 1948 while incarcerated in the Norfolk State Colony in Massachusetts, Malcolm joined the Nation of Islam. In 1954, Elijah Muhammad sent him to Philadelphia to expand Temple No. 12.

Until recently, there was confusion about where Malcolm X resided during his time in Philadelphia. Eyewitness and videotaped firsthand accounts have confirmed his address in Sharswood. So All That Philly Jazz is sponsoring the nomination of 2503 W. Oxford Street for listing in the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.

In a Q&A with Hidden City Philadelphia’s Mike Bixler, All That Philly Jazz Director Faye Anderson talks about Malcolm X, jazz and historic preservation:

Michael Bixler: The FBI files from 1954 have Malcolm X at living at 1522 N. 26th Street, but you have discovered otherwise. How did you confirm that 2503 Oxford Street was his correct address?

Faye Anderson: On January 16, the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus held a screening of civil rights documentaries at the Pearl Theater. One of the films screened was “Seeds of Awakening: The Early Nation of Islam in Philadelphia,” which included first-hand accounts of Malcolm X’s time in the city. In the film Brother Richard Hassan recalled:

We would sit up all night. When Malcolm was here, we’d sit up all night talking. We had a Unity House, a Fruit House, on 2503 Oxford Street. A big house. That’s where Malcolm would stay and all the brothers would come.

The documentary was produced by the New Africa Center, part of the Scribe Video Center’s Muslim Voices of Philadelphia community history project. I have since spoken with Abdul Rahim Muhammad, executive director of the New Africa Center, who confirmed the address with Brother Hassan. While Hassan no longer lives in the Philadelphia area, I have his phone number so I will be able to get an affidavit from him if necessary. I also have contact information for Malcolm’s former press secretary and photographer.

MB: What are the next steps to getting an historical marker placed?

FA: Architectural historian Oscar Beisert and I are preparing the form to nominate 2503 W. Oxford Street for historic designation by the Philadelphia Historical Commission and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. We will submit the nomination on or about February 21, 2016, the 51st anniversary of the assassination of El-Hajj Malik Shabazz [Malcolm X].

MB: Why is it important to you to have an historical marker placed there?

FA: The historical marker is important because 2503 W. Oxford Street is a place where history happened. Malcolm X lived there for about six months in 1954. To be clear, the house does not meet architectural standards for historic properties. Instead, the building has significance in the cultural characteristics of Philadelphia and is associated with a person significant in the past. The building also exemplifies the political, social and cultural heritage of the African American community. What happened at 2503 W. Oxford Street laid the foundation for what is now one of the largest populations of African-American Muslims in the country.

The historical marker will tell a more complete story about the Sharswood neighborhood. Sharswood is about more than concentrated poverty and race riots. It’s a community that provided safe havens from the indignities of segregation. Jazz giants roamed Ridge Avenue and iconic leaders like Malcolm X and Charles W. Bowser resided there.


Ridge on the Rise

Back in the day, Ridge Avenue was a vibrant commercial corridor. The heart and soul of North Philadelphia was also an entertainment district. The Blue Note was at 15th Street and Ridge Avenue.

Blue Note

The Bird Cage Lounge was one block up at Ridge and 16th Street. I don’t know whether it was named after him, but Charlie “Bird” Parker played there. The legendary Pearl Bailey began her singing and dancing career at the Pearl Theater, which was at Ridge and 21st Street.

Pearl Theater Collage

Some of the jazz giants who roamed Ridge Avenue likely stayed at the Hotel LaSalle, which was close to the Pearl Theater. The hotel was listed in the The Negro Motorist Green Book. The Crossroads Bar at Ridge and Columbia Avenue (now Cecil B. Moore Avenue) was at the western tip of the storied “Golden Strip.”

Ridge began its steep decline in the aftermath of the 1964 Columbia Avenue race riots and construction of the Norman Blumberg Apartments public housing. Fast forward 50 years, Ridge is on the rise.

In 2014, the Philadelphia Housing Authority announced that transformation of the Blumberg/Sharswood neighborhood was its top priority. The Sharswood Blumberg Choice Neighborhoods Transformation Plan is a massive $500 million project that would, among other things, revitalize the Ridge Avenue corridor.

In an op-ed piece published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, PHA President and CEO Kelvin A. Jeremiah wrote:

The redevelopment of a community is about turning ideas into public policy and putting policy into action.

PHA’s revitalization efforts are a targeted, coordinated development model designed to maximize the economic benefits of neighborhood revitalization, not the piecemeal dispersed development model of the past. To transform communities into neighborhoods of choice, there must be good schools for every child, quality affordable housing for all families, and a vibrant small business commercial corridor. The challenge is turning the ideas and rhetoric into policy and practice.

In remarks before the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s recent conference, Marion Mollegen McFadden, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Grant Programs, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, noted a community has both tangible and intangible assets:

I see preservation’s efforts to recognize and honor the cultural heritage of minority and ethnic groups as a valuable component of strong communities, in particular many of the communities that HUD serves. And I don’t just mean preservation of buildings and places, but also of diverse cultural ties and traditions, the intangible dimensions of heritage that together enrich us as a nation.

McFadden concluded with a quote from HUD Secretary Julián Castro:

History isn’t just a subject for books and documentaries. It’s alive and well in buildings, sites, and structures that shape our communities. They tell us who we are and where we come from – and it’s critical that we protect our past for present and future generations.

The Sharswood/Blumberg Choice Neighborhoods Transformation Plan raises the question: Does PHA value the area’s tangible and intangible assets that give the neighborhood its identity? If so, will a transformed Ridge Avenue preserve the neighborhood’s cultural heritage for current and future generations?